I have collected feedback from my team about what area they want to work on and that is internal communication.

They want to improve the frequency and quality of interactions basically. So asking and offering for help, pairing and working together, speaking up in ceremonies.

For me this has a lot to do with psychological safety and trust so I have tried to find games that help with this.

Does anyone have any suggestions for a game or activity in a retro to encourage internal communication or even something I can do outside of the retro setting?


Since you asked about specific interactions:

So asking and offering for help, pairing and working together, speaking up in ceremonies.

Sometimes people need a little help getting comfortable with different forms of interaction. So creating opportunities for them to practice working in pairs, or initiating interactions, or speaking up in groups can be helpful in breaking through that unfamiliarity-barrier.

Here are a few thoughts:

  • During retros, start including activities that involve breaking into pairs or groups. For example, if you usually dot-vote to prioritize, try instead randomly assigning pairs and having each pair come up with their most important list; then rearrange pairs, or build them up into larger subgroups, with ~3 rounds of prioritizing total; then reconvene in plenary to share the small group results (and rationales) and decide how to proceed.

  • Ask the team if they'd like to add something explicit to the daily standup to make it easier to ask for or offer help. I don't know if you're using the common "three questions" approach or something less structured, but you could include something like "At our retro, y'all wanted to get better at asking for and offering help -- can somebody practice that today?"

  • During sprint planning, ask the team if they see any good opportunities to pair and work together, and build that into the sprint plan

  • During ceremonies generally, move from a round-the-table or unstructured/"popcorn" approach to a directed invitation approach, such that each person who speaks picks the next person to speak.

  • Work with the team to make a bingo card! Each square can have one of these things they'd like to get better at. I'd suggest having a single card for the whole team so they can collaborate in achieving Bingo.

  • Celebrate every time somebody does one of the things, eg by cheering or clapping, or if that's too disruptive then a thumbs-up or jazz-hands. Encourage people to initiate their own celebratory gesture and then have the whole team mirror it -- I'm reminded of a technique I was taught where, when you make a mistake, you throw your arms up in the air and go "TaDa!!" and the whole team does it with you. That's the kind of energy I'm thinking of.

I hope these ideas help. And thanks for asking the question, it's given me some ideas I might want to try with my team. :)


If they feel that the environment is safe and friendly - they will speak up. I noticed that such environment is created when people have discussions on personal level.

The thing that I see almost always works is going to lunch together. People get closer as they start discussing personal stuff too, which makes them more comfortable. Though frequently the team still splits into sub-groups - each sub-group goes to lunch separately. Which may result in a tension between sub-groups. Of course this practice works only in office settings.

I also like to bring up non-work topics during meetings - maybe discuss some news, or tell some story, or share something personal. Hopefully make people laugh. This can work for remote meetings too.

During calls - ensure the team have their webcams on. People don't trust black rectangles and they usually assume the worst - that someone's angry or got offended; or when they tell a joke and there's no reaction - they'd assume people didn't find the joke funny. So next time they'll be afraid to tell jokes. Also this allows for more personal discussions as someone will have a pesky cat or a funny dog at the background and will bring this up. Though unfortunately a lot of people blur their background these days.

I know a company where they have a practice of a coffee-buddy. Once a week everyone (who agreed to participate) gets to have a call with a random colleague (who also agreed to participate) and they just have a 30min chat. Since the pair is chosen randomly there's a chance of those who don't usually communicate - to get closer. I see that it works for some people very well, but I don't know what happens when 2 shy people meet - it could be stressful for them. I wouldn't make this compulsory.

And I think the most important is to have positive colleagues. If there's a bully in the team - he'll make everyone uncomfortable. They're afraid to trigger that person and hence will not bring up some topics.

  • Your mileage may vary. Discussion of non-work topics is contentious and runs the risk that you're going to offend someone or disenfranchise someone. Forcing people to turn on webcams ... force is antithetical to trust. We have "coffee buddies" - I participate because failure to do so will result in punishment; fear is antithetical to trust. That said, I vehemently agree with your last para. I think if you want to build trust on the team, then display trustworthy behavior. – Mark C. Wallace Jan 12 at 14:51
  • @MarkC.Wallace, if you want people to be courageous and to speak up - it doesn't matter how well they or their colleagues contribute. It's a psychological problem which needs some ice-breaking. If you want to completely remove all the characteristics from work settings - you'll have to completely anonymize people (use surrogate IDs like "user-123" instead of names, voice & video disguise) - not an environment I'd prefer :) We work with people. People are social creatures - they need to communicate with other people. – Stanislav Bashkyrtsev Jan 12 at 15:17
  • @MarkC.Wallace, punishment (which I didn't encourage in my answer, BTW) isn't antithetical to trust. If I know the rules of the game and I know when I'm punished - I can still trust the game. I know what I can and cannot do. But if I don't know the rules - then I'll be afraid. Generally people distrust what they don't know and don't understand. And when I communicate with colleagues - I trust those whose behavior I understand and can predict. I know what I can say and what can offend them. But for that I need to see their face expressions. – Stanislav Bashkyrtsev Jan 12 at 15:18
  • Horses for courses. I care about what people say and do; forcing me to turn on my webcam significantly diminishes my desire to engage. I think if you succeed at the last point (suppress bullying), then you've solved 90% of the problem and the rest is polishing chrome. – Mark C. Wallace Jan 12 at 15:29
  • @MarkC.Wallace, once you get rid of the bully you first get a calm period, but then people start "forgetting" how it was in bad times and become more sensitive to what non-bullies say. So the new problem is now - (overly)sensitive people. That's where webcams especially shine - as the sensitivity is amplified by incorrectly reading off emotions of colleagues. "forcing me to turn on my webcam significantly diminishes my desire to engage" - alas, this usually happens if webams weren't enforced at the beginning and then suddenly the rules change. Though these wounds quickly heal anyway :) – Stanislav Bashkyrtsev Jan 12 at 20:03

Something else to consider here. e.g.:

"They want to improve the frequency and quality of interactions basically."

"No, there is something more." Outside of work-related settings, real people never describe their [social ...] interactions in this way. Therefore, try to guide the team to try to articulate the work-related [communication ...] issues that are right now impeding them. Each of them might have "simply, built walls," sufficient to enable them to "go about their business," without even realizing that they had done so.

So: focus on that word, "basically." Give each of them this thought-question, for each of them to puzzle out: *"if I asked you to substitute the word 'specifically,' for the word 'basically,' what particular 'interactions' would then come to mind, and ... exactly ... what is now wrong with them?"

Remember: human beings are extremely adaptable. They can "adapt" without even realizing that they've done so.

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